Guam leaders balk at U.S. militiary buildup

by Teri Weaver

Stars and Stripes, News for War Criminals

TOKYO — Guam’s leaders in recent days have ratcheted up criticism of a proposed massive military buildup, with the island’s sole delegate to Congress vowing to withdraw support unless the Pentagon slows its plans.

In her biennial speech Tuesday night to the Guam Legislature, Madeleine Bordallo asked the Navy to stretch the construction phase to eight to 10 years as the military moves 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

Currently, the plan calls for reaching the construction peak in four years, a move that could temporarily add nearly 80,000 people to the island by 2014.

“We will do everything that we can, federally and locally, to stop that from happening,” Bordallo said during her address. “We have our foot on the brakes.”

On Monday, Gov. Felix Camacho had a similar tone in his State of the Island speech, calling on the military to rethink plans to dredge acres of coral out of Apra Harbor to make way for an aircraft carrier berth.

He also said he would not support any move by the military to force the island to give up specially designated lands for native Chamorro and other islanders, a part of which the military would like for firing ranges.

And last Friday, the legislature unanimously passed a local resolution calling the military’s voluminous impact statement on the project “grossly flawed.”

The resolution outlined multiple complaints about the military’s proposal to lessen the impact of its expansion, including a lack of money to help upgrade the island’s infrastructure as it prepares to handle a permanent influx of nearly 34,000 new residents.

The flurry of commentary — including from buildup supporters such as Bordallo and Camacho — came as time was running out for public comment on the military’s nine-volume environmental impact statement detailing the project. The deadline for submission was Wednesday.

The solicitation period began before Thanksgiving, followed by more than a dozen public hearings on the buildup plan earlier this year. As residents and leaders learned more, some began focusing on what they saw as worrisome: disrupting fishing areas, digging more wells into the island’s aquifer, and bringing in thousands of migrant construction workers without explaining how the temporary surge in population will affect the island’s aging infrastructure.

Some of those issues are being addressed, just not in the environmental impact statement, said Simon Sanchez, who chairs the island’s Consolidated Commission on Utilities. The commission — which includes local water, power and sewage officials — meets regularly with military planners to talk about the next phase in planning for the buildup: how to nail down the military’s pledges to help pay for its impact outside its fences.

“We are making progress,” Sanchez said Wednesday.

Those discussions aren’t a part of the impact statement, a federally required document meant to assess the project’s effects on the island. And the statement, to this point, is in draft form. The military must gather the hundreds of comments, analyze them and explain whether they will incorporate or reject them. The final document — called an EIS — is due out this summer.

“We appreciate Governor Camacho and Congresswoman Bordallo’s continued support for the build-up,” Marine Corps Maj. Neil Ruggiero, a spokesman for the military’s Joint Guam Program Office, wrote in a statement. “Their comments, like all comments, are important and will be taken into consideration for the final EIS.”

Sanchez said he understood the growing concern from the island, and he, too, worries the military’s current explanations fall short of explaining how the federal government will help the island deal with population growth outside military bases during construction.

“We’re worried about the surge phase,” Sanchez said. “That’s the biggest concern.”

That’s what Bordallo, a Democrat, has asked the military to stall. Both she and the governor, a Republican, support a slower building phase so that the island’s current population of 178,000 can accommodate the incoming workers and troops. As a delegate from a U.S. territory, Bordallo cannot vote on the floor of Congress. But she does have a full vote in committees, including the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, which handles Pentagon spending.

Two requests Wednesday by Stars and Stripes for comment from Bordallo, who was on the island, were not answered by her staff.

Bordallo repeated her overall support for the military expansion on Guam during her speech Tuesday, despite her funding caveat.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say that this draft EIS has done more harm than good,” she told the island’s legislature. “I see great opportunities in this buildup and we must not let these challenges overcome the greater goal of creating a better life and more opportunities for our people.”

The governor, on Monday, struck a different tone.

While he too said he supports the basic idea of the buildup, he wants to make sure that Guam and its future generations are treated with respect.

“Throughout the past four and a half centuries, our people have adapted to changes that have been thrust upon us,” Camacho said. The island’s “culture is dynamic, adaptive and vibrant, as evidenced in our language, beliefs and practices. We have retained important aspects of our culture that we cherish — our social values, respect for elders, love for family and our faith in God.”

To that end, he has proposed legislation to change the island’s name from Guam to Guahan, the Chamorro name for the island that means “we have.”

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